Dutch petition against German museum named for controversial WWII figure

Hans Georg Calmeyer (1903-1972)
Hans Georg Calmeyer (1903-1972)HansmullerWikimedia Commons

A group of 200 prominent people will submit a petition to the German embassy in The Hague on Thursday against a German museum's plans to name one of their buildings after German Hans Calmeyer. The man saved thousands of Jewish lives during the Second World War, but is also controversial.

Calmeyer was head of the Entscheidungsstelle, a German office in the Netherlands that assessed revision requests submitted by people who had been declared Jewish according to German racial law, from 1941. Calmeyer granted around 2,500 requests for revision, saving the people who submitted them from deportation to concentration and extermination camps. In his hometown he is called "the Schindler of Osnabrück".

But over the years, doubts arose about his actions, with questions like why he didn't honor more requests. "Calmeyer honored about 2,500 objections, but also rejected around 1,500. He just performed official work and never did anything outside the lines, he was never in danger," journalist Hans Knoop, initiator of the petition, said to NOS. "We believe that the German state should not spend tax money on a controversial figure."

Osnabrück also saw years of controversy about Calmeyer and the plans for the museum but the city council eventually decided to put a Calmeyer museum in Villa Schlikker, a local headquarters for the National Socialist during WWII. The museum will feature the stories of the victims fo the Nazi regime. The city council said that it considers this museum important and wants to give space "to the complexity of the person Calmeyer, his actions and the historical context, so that the visitor can make their own judgment."

Historian Petra van den Boomgaard, who obtained her PhD last year with research on people who submitted review requests to Calmeyer, understands the controversy, she said to NOS. "Calmeyer did help many Jews. And there is a large group of people who attribute their survival to him and who are still very grateful to him for this. Until September 1943 there was a real chance of a request for revision being granted, but after that Calmeyer came under pressure. He was betrayed several times by Dutch parties involved in the review process during that period."

"I can imagine objections, Calmeyer is not undisputed," Van den Boomgaard said. But she also understands why the city council of Osnabrück wants to honor him with the museum. "Germany needs as many Schindlers as possible. They want to show that there were also god Germans. And if there is someone in your own city who meets that need, you like to show it."